Read an Excerpt
FOR THE TOUGH TIMESReaching Toward Heaven for Hope
By Max Lucado
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2006 Max Lucado
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHERE IS GOD?
When tragedy strikes, whether personal, national, or global, people wonder how God could allow such things to happen. What can he be thinking? Is God really in control? Can we trust him to run the universe if he would allow this?
It is important to recognize that God dwells in a different realm. He occupies another dimension. "My thoughts are not like your thoughts. Your ways are not like my ways. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9).
Make special note of the word like. God's thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are they even like ours. We aren't even in the same neighborhood. We're thinking, Preserve the body; he's thinking, Save the soul. We dream of a pay raise. He dreams of raising the dead. We avoid pain and seek peace. God uses pain to bring peace. "I'm going to live before I die," we resolve. "Die so you can live," he instructs. We love what rusts. He loves what endures. We rejoice at our successes. He rejoices at our confessions. We show our children the Nike star with the million-dollar smile and say, "Be like Mike." God points tothe crucified carpenter with bloody lips and a torn side and says, "Be like Christ."
Our thoughts are not like God's thoughts. Our ways are not like his ways. He has a different agenda. He dwells in a different dimension. He lives on another plane.
The heavens tell the glory of God, and the skies announce what his hands have made. Day after day they tell the story; night after night they tell it again. They have no speech or words; they have no voice to be heard. But their message goes out through all the world; their words go everywhere on earth. (Ps. 19:1-4)
Nature is God's workshop. The sky is his résumé. The universe is his calling card. You want to know who God is? See what he has done. You want to know his power? Take a look at his creation. Curious about his strength? Pay a visit to his home address: 1 Billion Starry Sky Avenue. Want to know his size? Step out into the night and stare at starlight emitted one million years ago, and then read 2 Chronicles 2:6: "No one can really build a house for our God. Not even the highest of heavens can hold him."
He is untainted by the atmosphere of sin, unbridled by the time line of history, unhindered by the weariness of the body.
What controls you doesn't control him. What troubles you doesn't trouble him. What fatigues you doesn't fatigue him. Is an eagle disturbed by traffic? No, he rises above it. Is the whale perturbed by a hurricane? Of course not; he plunges beneath it. Is the lion flustered by the mouse standing directly in his way? No, he steps over it.
How much more is God able to soar above, plunge beneath, and step over the troubles of the earth! "What is impossible with man is possible with God" (see Matt. 19:26). Our questions betray our lack of understanding:
How can God be everywhere at one time? (Who says God is bound by a body?)
How can God hear all the prayers that come to him? (Perhaps his ears are different from yours.)
How can God be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? (Could it be that heaven has a different set of physics than earth?)
If people down here won't forgive me, how much more am I guilty before a holy God? (Oh, just the opposite. God is always able to give grace when we humans can't-he invented it.)
How vital that we pray, armed with the knowledge that God is in heaven. Pray with any lesser conviction, and our prayers are timid, shallow, and hollow. Look up and see what God has done, and watch how your prayers are energized.
This knowledge gives us confidence as we face the uncertain future. We know that he is in control of the universe, and so we can rest secure. But also important is the knowledge that this God in heaven has chosen to bend near toward earth to see our sorrow and hear our prayers. He is not so far above us that he is not touched by our tears.
Though we may not be able to see his purpose or his plan, the Lord of heaven is on his throne and in firm control of the universe and our lives. So we entrust him with our future. We entrust him with our very lives.
Chapter TwoGOD'S GREAT LOVE
It was her singing that did it. At first I didn't notice. Had no reason to. The circumstances were commonplace. A daddy picking up his six-year-old from a Brownie troop meeting. Sara loves Brownies; she loves the awards she earns and the uniform she wears. She'd climbed into the car and shown me her new badge and freshly baked cookie. I'd turned onto the road, turned on her favorite music, and turned my attention to more sophisticated matters of schedules and obligations.
But only steps into the maze of thought I stepped back out. Sara was singing. Singing about God. Singing to God. Head back, chin up, and lungs full, she filled the car with music. Heaven's harps paused to listen.
Is that my daughter? She sounds older. She looks older, taller, even prettier. Did I sleep through something? What happened to the chubby cheeks? What happened to the little face and pudgy fingers? She is becoming a young lady. Blonde hair down to her shoulders. Feet dangling over the seat. Somewhere in the night a page had turned and-well, look at her!
If you're a parent, you know what I mean. Just yesterday, diapers. Today, the car keys? Suddenly your child is halfway to the dormitory, and you're running out of chances to show your love, so you speak.
That's what I did. The song stopped, and Sara stopped, and I ejected the tape and put my hand on her shoulder and said, "Sara, you're something special." She turned and smiled tolerantly. "Someday some hairy-legged boy is going to steal your heart and sweep you into the next century. But right now, you belong to me."
She tilted her head, looked away for a minute, then looked back and asked, "Daddy, why are you acting so weird?"
I suppose such words would sound strange to a six-year-old. The love of a parent falls awkwardly on the ears of a child. My burst of emotion was beyond her. But that didn't keep me from speaking.
There is no way our little minds can comprehend the love of God. But that didn't keep him from coming.
And we, too, have tilted our heads. Like Sara, we have wondered what our Father was doing. From the cradle in Bethlehem to the cross in Jerusalem, we've pondered the love of our Father. What can you say to that kind of emotion? Upon learning that God would rather die than live without you, how do you react? How can you begin to explain such passion? If you're Paul the apostle, you don't. You make no statements. You offer no explanations. You ask a few questions.
These questions are not new to you. You've asked them before. In the night you've asked them; in anger you've asked them. The doctor's diagnosis brought them to the surface, as did the court's decision, the phone call from the bank, and the incomprehensible tragedies that occur in our world. The questions are probes of pain and problem and circumstance. No, the questions are not new, but maybe the answers are.
If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31 NIV)
The question is not simply "Who can be against us?" You could answer that one. Who is against you? Disease, inflation, corruption, exhaustion. Calamities confront, and fears imprison. Were Paul's question "Who can be against us?" we could list our foes much easier than we could fight them. But that is not the question. The question is, If God is for us, who can be against us?
Indulge me for a moment. Four words in this verse deserve your attention. Read slowly the phrase "God is for us." Please pause for a minute before you continue. Read it again, aloud. (My apologies to the person next to you.) God is for us. Repeat the phrase four times, this time emphasizing each word. (Come on, you're not in that big of a hurry.)
God is for us. God is for us. God is for us.
God is for us.
God is for you. Your parents may have forgotten you, your teachers may have neglected you, your siblings may be ashamed of you, but within reach of your prayers is the Maker of the oceans. God!
God is for you. Not "may be," not "has been," not "was," not "would be," but "God is"! He is for you. Today. At this hour. At this minute. As you read this sentence. No need to wait in line or come back tomorrow. He is with you. He could not be closer than he is at this second. His loyalty won't increase if you are better nor lessen if you are worse. He is for you.
God is for you. Turn to the sidelines; that's God cheering your run. Look past the finish line; that's God applauding your steps. Listen for him in the bleachers, shouting your name. Too tired to continue? He'll carry you. Too discouraged to fight? He's picking you up. God is for you.
God is for you. Had he a calendar, your birthday would be circled. If he drove a car, your name would be on his bumper. If there's a tree in heaven, he's carved your name in the bark. We know he has a tattoo, and we know what it says. "I have written your name on my hand," he declares (Isa. 49:16).
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?" God asks in Isaiah 49:15 (NIV). What a bizarre question. Can you mothers imagine feeding your infant and then later asking, "What was that baby's name?" No. I've seen you care for your young. You stroke the hair, you touch the face, you sing the name over and over. Can a mother forget? No way. But "even if she could forget, I will not forget you," God pledges (Isa. 49:15).
God is with you. Knowing that, who is against you? Can death harm you now? Can disease rob your life? Can your purpose be taken or your value diminished? No. Though hell itself may set itself against you, no one can defeat you. You are protected. God is with you.
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:32 NIV)
Suppose a man comes upon a child being beaten by thugs. He dashes into the mob, rescues the boy, and carries him to a hospital. The youngster is nursed to health. The man pays for the child's treatment. He learns that the child is an orphan and adopts him as his own and gives the boy his name. And then, one night months later, the father hears the son sobbing into his pillow. He goes to him and asks about the tears.
"I'm worried, Daddy. I'm worried about tomorrow. Where will I get food to eat? How am I going to buy clothes to stay warm? And where will I sleep?"
The father is rightfully troubled. "Haven't I shown you? Don't you understand? I risked my life to save you. I gave my money to treat you. You wear my name. I've called you my son. Would I do all that and then not meet your needs?"
This is Paul's question. Would he who gave his Son not meet our needs?
But still we worry. We worry about the IRS and the SAT and the FBI. We worry about education, recreation, and constipation. We worry that we won't have enough money, and when we have money, we worry that we won't manage it well. We worry that the world will end before the parking meter expires. We worry what the dog thinks if he sees us step out of the shower. We worry that someday we'll learn that fat-free yogurt was fattening.
Honestly, now. Did God save you so you would fret? Would he teach you to walk just to watch you fall? Would he be nailed to the cross for your sins and then disregard your prayers? Come on. Is Scripture teasing us when it says, "He has put his angels in charge of you to watch over you wherever you go" (Ps. 91:11)?
I don't think so either.
Can anything separate us from the love Christ has for us? (Rom. 8:35)
There it is. This is the question. Here is what we want to know. We want to know how long God's love will endure. Does God really love us forever? Not just on Easter Sunday when our shoes are shined and our hair is fixed. I want to know (deep within, don't we all really want to know?), how does God feel about me when I'm a jerk? Not when I'm peppy and positive and ready to tackle world hunger. Not then. I know how he feels about me then. Even I like me then.
I want to know how he feels about me when I snap at anything that moves, when my thoughts are gutter-level, when my tongue is sharp enough to slice a rock. How does he feel about me then?
And when bad things happen-does God care then? Does he love me in the midst of fear? Is he with me when danger lurks?
Will God stop loving me?
That's the question. That's the concern. Oh, you don't say it; you may not even know it. But I can see it on your faces. I can hear it in your words. Did I cross the line this week? Last Tuesday when I drank vodka until I couldn't walk ... last Thursday when my business took me where I had no business being ... last summer when I cursed the God who made me as I stood near the grave of the child he gave me?
Did I drift too far? Wait too long? Slip too much? Was I too uncertain? Too fearful? Too angry at the pain in this world?
That's what we want to know.
Can anything separate us from the love Christ has for us?
God answered our question before we asked it. So we'd see his answer, he lit the sky with a star. So we'd hear it, he filled the night with a choir. And so we'd believe it, he did what no man had ever dreamed; he became flesh and dwelt among us.
He placed his hand on the shoulder of humanity and said, "You're something special."
Untethered by time, he sees us all. From the backwoods of Virginia to the business district of London; from the Vikings to the astronauts; from the cave dwellers to the kings; from the hut builders to the finger pointers to the rock stackers; he sees us. Vagabonds and ragamuffins all, he saw us before we were born.
And he loves what he sees. Flooded by emotion, overcome by pride, the Starmaker turns to us, one by one, and says, "You are my child. I love you dearly. I'm aware that someday you'll turn from me and walk away. But I want you to know, I've already provided you a way back."
And to prove it, he did something extraordinary.
Stepping from the throne, he removed his robe of light and wrapped himself in skin: pigmented, human skin. The light of the universe entered a dark, wet womb. He who angels worship nestled himself in the placenta of a peasant, was birthed into the cold night, and then slept on cow's hay.
Mary didn't know whether to give him milk or give him praise, but she gave him both since he was, as near as she could figure, hungry and holy.
Joseph didn't know whether to call him Junior or Father. But in the end he called him Jesus, since that's what the angel said and since he didn't have the faintest idea what to name a God he could cradle in his arms.
Neither Mary nor Joseph said it as bluntly as my Sara, but don't you think their heads tilted and their minds wondered, What in the world are you doing, God? Or, better phrased, God, what are you doing in the world?
"Can anything make me stop loving you?" God asks. "Watch me speak your language, sleep on your earth, and feel your hurts. Behold the Maker of sight and sound as he sneezes, coughs, and blows his nose. You wonder if I understand how you feel? Look into the dancing eyes of the kid in Nazareth; that's God walking to school. Ponder the toddler at Mary's table; that's God spilling his milk.
"You wonder how long my love will last? Find your answer on a splintered cross, on a craggy hill. That's me you see up there, your Maker, your God. Nail-stabbed and bleeding. Covered in spit and sin-soaked. That's your sin I'm feeling. That's your death I'm dying. That's your resurrection I'm living. That's how much I love you.
"Can anything come between you and me?" asks the firstborn Son.
Hear the answer and stake your future on the triumphant words of Paul: "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39).
Excerpted from FOR THE TOUGH TIMES by Max Lucado Copyright © 2006 by Max Lucado. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.